Who’s hot and who’s not: La Rochelle and Toulon shine while two Welsh greats call it a day

Adam Kyriacou
Who's hot and who's not photo 22 May 2023.jpg

It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons after the weekend.


La Rochelle claim famous victory: For the second successive year, the Top 14 outfit were up against Leinster in the Champions Cup final, and just like in 2022, they came into the encounter as the underdogs. This year, Ronan O’Gara’s troops had an even bigger mountain to climb as the final was played in Leinster‘s backyard, at the Aviva Stadium. And despite a blistering start from the Irish province, who raced into a 17-0 lead, La Rochelle kept their composure and eventually sealed a thrilling 27-26 win. They clinched the result courtesy of a late Georges-Henri Colombe try, which was converted by Antoine Hastoy, who also converted five-pointers from Jonathan Danty and Ulupano Seuteni and added two penalties. It was a special occasion afterwards for La Rochelle captain Gregory Alldritt, who was named man of the match and also crowned EPCR player of the year.

Toulon and Cheslin Kolbe impress: In the first of the weekend’s European finals, Toulon were deserved winners over Glasgow Warriors to lift the Challenge Cup on Friday. The French side were forced into plenty of chopping and changing due to failed HIAs and injuries during the game, but it didn’t affect their fluent and clinical style as they powered past Glasgow 43-19. Kolbe was outstanding defensively, as his work rate in the backfield had to be seen to be believed. The Springbok, alongside the likes of Charles Ollivon and Sergio Parisse, were excellent.

Star trio recognised in club game: It was a great week off the field for Leinster and Ireland back-row Caelan Doris, Leicester Tigers and Springboks number eight Jasper Wiese and Stormers and Boks fly-half Manie Libbok after the talented trio’s excellent form was recognised with each of them winning individual awards after displaying excellent form on a consistent basis for their respective clubs. Doris was crowned the Men’s XVs Players’ Player of the Year 2023 at the Rugby Players Ireland Awards, while Wiese was named the Rugby Players’ Association Players’ Player of the Year, and Libbok was voted as the United Rugby Championship (URC) Fans’ Player of the Season.

Barbarians and World XV selections: The fixture at Twickenham this weekend between these two invitational sides promises to be a cracking watch after both teams announced their squads for Sunday. The likes of Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi, Charles Piutau, Israel Folau, Ngani Laumape and Semi Radradra are just some of the quality names included by respective coaches Eddie Jones and Steve Hansen, so there’s stars aplenty on show. It’s not just the battle on the field that will be interesting, too as old rivals Jones and Hansen face off again.

Kubota Spears win Japan Rugby League One: The Japan Rugby League One has a new champion! The Kubota Spears defeated the Robbie Deans-coached Panasonic Wild Knights in a tense final on Saturday. It was a mighty effort from the Spears after a hard-fought semi-final win over Suntory Sungoliath. The Wild Knights have won their last three Japanese League titles and were expected to make it four from four, having lost just once since rugby resumed in Japan after Covid-19. However, Kubota had other ideas as Springboks hooker Malcolm Marx lifted his first club trophy in his career while coach Frans Ludeke won his first title since leading the Bulls to back-to-back Super Rugby triumphs in 2010. 41,000 spectators packed into the National Stadium in Tokyo to celebrate Kubota’s stunning 17-15 victory.


Two Welsh greats call it a day: Where did that come from? On Friday afternoon, the game was hit by not one but two retirements from the international game. Wales back-row Justin Tipuric was first to announce he was hanging up his boots at international level at the age of 33, just months before the Rugby World Cup in France. Then shortly after, the great Alun Wyn Jones, 37, did the same in a bizarre couple of hours that left many scratching their head. On a purely selfish note, it’s such a shame fans won’t get to see the pair at the global tournament and also that they won’t get the send-off their incredible Test careers deserve. Of course, we wish both Tipuric and Jones a happy retirement.

Glasgow Warriors fail to turn up: That must have been a tough watch for Glasgow fans as even for the neutral, it was frustrating seeing that performance from the Warriors on the big stage. After their United Rugby Championship campaign was ended by Munster, the Scottish side would have been itching to bounce back in the Challenge Cup final against Toulon. However, they just couldn’t find a rhythm, and errors proved costly at the lineout especially, with Toulon dominating the contest from the outset. A tough end to an otherwise impressive season.

Wasps plummet to bottom of pyramid: The former Premiership outfit suffered a major setback last week when the Rugby Football Union (RFU) withdrew their licence to continue playing in the English league structure. This, after Wasps failed to meet an RFU deadline proving it could still operate at the required level, which meant the club would not be participating in the Championship next season. The RFU’s decision not to grant them permission to compete in the Championship is a massive blow for Wasps, who are still coming to terms with their relegation from the Premiership earlier this season.

Ben Curry set for World Cup heartbreak: Injuries are tough to take in any period, but with a Rugby World Cup on the horizon, things are amplified, and one can’t help but sympathise for Curry. The England flanker suffered a hamstring injury while on duty for Sale Sharks in their Premiership semi-final win over Leicester Tigers, which required surgery, and it now looks to have done for his hopes of making Steve Borthwick’s squad. Sport can be cruel sometimes, and we hope Curry recovers well, with a Sale win on Saturday no doubt helping his mood.

READ MORE: Sunday Social: La Rochelle and Toulon celebrate in style after Champions and Challenge Cup triumphs